It is hard to know what to expect when walking into a cheap, downloadable game. It could be a huge surprise, nailing every element and being easily on par with titles up to ten times as expensive, or it could be an absolute piece of garbage that does not deserve even a five-dollar price tag. Cube Tactics comes close to being both, but ends up being neither.

For a five-dollar game, it is absolutely splendid; solid music, pleasing visuals, and clever strategy and puzzle gameplay definitely makes the title stand out. It most certainly isn’t perfect — far from it, in fact. As both a strategy and puzzle game, it delivers fulfilling, fun gameplay with a surprising amount of variety in level designs and a great amount of single and multiplayer modes to keep players entertained for a long time.

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So what is Cube Tactics? The basic premise is fairly simple: both you and your opposition have a “Core Cube” you must protect at all costs while simultaneously trying to destroy the enemy’s. You can place cubes next to or on top of cubes that you have already placed.

Some of these aforementioned cubes have different qualities. Some create knights, a primary fighting force; some create archers, for long distance attacks; others create catapults to launch forces over dangerous terrain; others create healers, etc. You can choose between different cubes depending on the quest. How much power a constantly refilling gauge has dictates which cubes you can and cannot put on the field at a given time, meaning you have to be smart with which cubes you choose and when.

Those are just the basics. It’s significantly more complex than that, especially when it comes to layering and pairing cubes for maximum effectiveness, but fortunately, the game explains it very successfully over the course of the tutorials. It’s a simple, yet layered concept that by and large makes for hugely enjoyable gameplay. In addition to a huge amount of unlockable medals that can be brought into battles to give an added advantage, there are plenty of additional modes to keep players occupied long after the main game is complete.

Once the basics are covered, the game begins to get more creative with its level designs. At the beginning of the quests, both you and the enemy have a preset field, with the enemy having a complex structure and you a limited one, forcing you to build up smartly and quickly before taking them on. Due to the large amount of cube variety in the game, there are many different ways in which the starting layout can be set up. While this variety is a strength, it also highlights the game’s biggest weakness: it can be absolutely, completely unfair.

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The mechanics allow for some excellently designed levels that force you to think and be creative. At other times, the game is horribly unbalanced. The set-up sometimes is such that the only way to win is through trial and error. It forces the player to defend while leaving no room or time for a proper counterattack. Whether or not it is a win or a loss, it depends entirely too much on luck. And then, the next level can be beaten in one try, no problem. It’s just so poorly balanced; there are great levels but, especially in the latter half of the game, it alternates between being completely unfair and entirely too easy.

This is made worse with some spotty A.I. The different types of units usually do what they are supposed to, but sometimes, they act in completely unexpected and frustrating ways. For a strategy game, that’s not good — though when it is the enemy’s A.I. that does something stupid, it gives a strange sense of vindictive pleasure.

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Battle Royale throws both the player and the computer-controlled opposition into battle with no cubes on the field, forcing both to siphon off the same pool of cubes. Racing against the A.I. to build up your army, all the while stealing vital cubes from each other, is certainly intense. Better yet, you’re able to customize the battles, deciding on factors like how challenging the enemy is, how big the playing field will be, and the choice of having up to three enemies on the field at once. The mode isn’t easy, though; without honing your skills via the main quests, you will likely be crushed quickly, even on the easiest setting. Like the rest of the game, there are issues with A.I. and balance.

Excitingly, there is even online multiplayer. Like Battle Royale, it pits enemies against each other, starting from scratch and drawing from the same selection of cubes. More than anywhere else, this is where strategy and skill actually comes into play and it is hugely fun to partake in. Alas, there is a lag; it’s not much of one, but I found that the game briefly freezes every time a cube is placed on the field. It’s not much of a problem, since everything else runs so smoothly, but it does put a damper on what is such a fast-paced strategy game. A split second can be vital, but everything else works fine, so although it holds the online back somewhat, it most certainly is not a deal breaker for what is otherwise a well done part of the game.

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Visually, the game is pleasant. It isn’t anything mind-blowing, but for a five-dollar title it is pretty great looking. The colors are vibrant, everything is detailed enough to understand what is going on, and there is even some cool artwork at different points. Musically, the game definitely surprised me. I was worried it would go in a more cutesy direction, but the music style at times reminded me of Super Mario Galaxy, The Wonderful 101, and Zelda. Obviously, it doesn’t reach the pedigree of those games, but it definitely did remind me of them. It fits the game strangely well, offering a big battlefield feeling, despite the game being extremely cartoonish.

Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of variety in the music. I never found it much of a problem, but the same main track plays during every single battle and there are just a few other songs scattered throughout the game. Again, because of how well done the music was, I didn’t find myself minding, especially due to the low price of the title, but it could have done with some more variety.

Conclusion
It’s nearly impossible for me not to recommend this game. Clever mechanics, pleasant audio and visuals, several modes, online multiplayer, and even tons of useful unlockables makes for what could have been a masterpiece, but severe balancing issues and occasionally troubling A.I. hold it back considerably. Even so, it’s five dollars. Whatever flaws it may have, those looking for a clever puzzle or strategy game on a budget should look no further. Cube Tactics is yet another solid addition to the eShop and those interested shouldn’t hesitate to try it out.

Written by Jonathan Harrington

Jono loves to play and try out all types of games, but he’s especially fond of those with “Xenoblade,” “Okami,” or “Zelda” in the title. He is a features and reviews editor at Nintendo Enthusiast, though he also dabbles in news.


Pros:

  • Clever mechanics
  • Plenty of modes
  • Pleasant visuals
  • Great musical style
  • Solid online

Cons:

  • No consistent difficulty
  • Unfair enemy layouts
  • Occasional problems with A.I.
  • Lack of musical variety
  • Slight lag in multiplayer

Final Score:  7.5 / 10